My self-directed learning
By choosing what and where to research, I gained a far more wholistic perspective of history. I was able to focus more on cause-effect relationships. Initially, like many of my peers, I was more interested in filling the requirements of my assignment than taking advantage of this unfamiliar freedom. I began by examining woodcuts and paintings at the MOA, reading primary sources, and looking at old maps.
As we shared our findings in our cohorts, however, I realized that the things that interested me were often the things that interested my peers on a more personal level. Tommy, for example, often talked about the power of nations during the Renaissance and Enlightenment, and would compare that power with the power corporations hold today. I decided to better use my time by exploring things that would resonate with me personally.
I revisited the MOA, spending time viewing one of my favorite artists: Norman Rockwell. Except this time, I paid closer attention to how he portrayed major global events. I got lucky and was able to follow some curators who were giving "private" tours to museum donors. I began watching documentaries on the space race, globalization, and today's digital era, all from different countries. It was interesting to see common themes emerge in different forms.
As I began making my learning more personal, I felt more invested and started connecting events from earlier periods to today. Essentially, it was this new lens through which I viewed history that helped sparked my interest in the relationship between tolerance and radicalism.
My evolving project
I found that by developing my topic in a group environment and socially proofing it along the way, I could refine it more easily. Driven by both my personal research and personal experiences, I wanted to know whether tolerance could actually promote radicalism. Ironically, the very issue I was exploring initially inhibited me from sharing my views through social media.
Thankfully, my group members were supportive, and Michael encouraged me to share my ideas. I received "social proof" from friends and family members who both agreed and disagreed with my claim. Through this exercise, I came to understand the power of a personal angle.
Integrating my topic into our "hub" project wasn't difficult at all. Chloe, Michael, and I were able to connect our ideas fairly quickly. Establishing a format, however, proved to be the most difficult issue. We tried a variety of visual techniques using animations and GIF's. There were no predetermined criteria, so we found ourselves experimenting after every iteration. Several other group videos were more personal and seemed to hold more weight.We too decided to feature a more personal look and filmed each of us in our final project.
Communication and history
Society describes the interactions and relationships between people. History is simply a record of these interactions from a given point of view. As such, the way society interacts and is recorded depends entirely upon the forms of communication available.
With new communication mediums come developments in both society and its history. Before the Gutenberg press, for example, society was dependent upon the few who could read. Precious information like trade routes, ancient Greek history, and even the Bible, was usually shared orally by this elite minority. After the press was developed, however, information began spreading at an unprecedented rate. Even more surprising, literacy improved. Society literally began to adapt to this new communication platform.
By studying the effects of the Gutenberg press on Renaissance society, I now understand that our own society has the potential of undergoing a "Gutenberg Revolution". The internet has made possible several new communication platforms, like social media, that essentially eliminate the feedback gap between individuals.
This new environment is redefining our social structure as we speak. We no longer have to rely on the "clerics" of the Dark Ages (professionals and specialists) to receive information. Crowdsourced projects backed by amateurs are putting valuable information into everyone's hands for free.
Giving everyone voice, however, also changes the way history is and was recorded. Now anyone can redefine exactly what happened at Jesus's birth with the click of a button. Current events are covered by so many sources and angles, its hard to get the "real" story. In short, both history and society will forever evolve as new forms of communication develop.